A common complaint heard from Record Managers is their inability to be heard in the Executive suite. No matter how hard they try their words fall on deaf ears, and they cannot progress the conversation enough to get the traction they need.
I liken many in that predicament to my father-in-law. My father-in-law is clever at many things although it is fair to say, learning a new language is not one of them. I recall sitting in café in Boulogne when lunch had not arrived in a time that suited him. My efforts to tell him not to worry, as in France lunch is something not to be rushed, failed miserably. He marched in to the café and asked “Where is my lunch?” Of course the staff did not speak English and he did not speak French. His solution; to speak more slowly and when that did not work more loudly, of course.
Sounds familiar? Even a little humorous? But effective?
Not at all. How can it be effective to speak more slowly and loudly in a language people do not understand? It isn’t and can’t be. All that we can communicate when we act like that is the frustration we feel at not getting our message across, at not getting our voice heard.
To communicate effectively, we either need to learn to speak the language of our communication partner, find a translator or at the very least reframe our message into understandable symbols, such as hand gestures in this case.
This is a simple truth.
Then why do those responsible for communicating the imperative for good recordkeeping methods to the Executive suite push the message by speaking slower and louder about compliance and recordkeeping? It’s time to learn the language of senior executives.
At an executive meeting what are the top of mind topics? Business classification schemes? Recordkeeping maturity? The difficulties of handing the explosion of digital sources of records? The difficulties of getting adequate sentencing protocols attached to records?
I don’t think so. And yet this is the language that many, if not most of the Records project team use as the basis of their presentations to senior executives.
What is on an agenda of senior executives? At its essence, a senior executive team’s responsibility is the development and prosecution of strategy, management of risk and maintenance of corporate governance.
They do this by determining the vision and mission of the organisation, the strategies to achieve the vision and developing policies to govern how the organisation is to achieve its vision. They additionally take accountability for the development of a plan to manage the risk events which should a risk event occur, have an unacceptable combination of probability and consequence.
A productivity improvement through innovation is a key component of a strategy’s longevity. The alternative is to be overtaken by the competition. This is apples to private enterprise and government agencies alike. In the case of government agencies the impacts take the form of either outsourcing to reduce cost or reductions in operating or capital budgets to favour other, more productive initiatives.
Therefore, rather than recordkeeping, a better language to use with senior executives is RISK and PRODUCTIVITY.
The language of Risk
Good recordkeeping practices lower the probability of the adverse effects, and in most cases, the consequences of risk events for many standard processes. The extra bonus is most of these processes are also more efficient and effective when good recordkeeping practices are applied.
- Accounts payable benefits from scanning and relating of purchase orders, delivery dockets and invoices and the use of digital signatures reducing payment cycles. Reduction in disputes and the time taken to resolve disputes earn the organisation a reputation of a good payer opening the door to preferred supply arrangements.
- Contract management benefits from the ability to create audit trails, automatic versioning, having a single repository of truth, relating records, workflow and providing security. Reduction in the probability of errors and omissions in contracts, the risk of commercially sensitive information being seen and speeding up the process of design and management increase the confidence of business partners.
- Health and safety management benefits from automatic version control, relating records, advanced search features, workflow, advanced security reducing the probability of poor decisions through partial data availability and the failure to meet audit requirements by internal and external bodies.
- Recruitment benefits from relating records, workflow, advanced security features and automatic versioning reducing the time taken to recruit and on-board and the risk of allowing sensitive personal information to be seen by those who should not.
Engage the executive about risk reduction and productivity improvements. The scope for better flow and integrity of information is only limited by the imagination of each business unit and the realistic ability of employees to achieve the level of maturity in recordkeeping practices and EDRMS use required.
Understanding what language to talk is only half the battle, however. Getting their attention in the first place is the other half of the battle. The key to getting their attention is to highlight the RISK component rather than productivity or governance.
You can communicate risk by circulating the scary stories of the outcomes of poor recordkeeping practices in like industries. They are not hard to find and open the eyes of the executive who have no desire to see their organisation as front page news. However the best ally for a recordkeeper wanting to catch the attention of the Executive Suite is the Auditor.
You’ll find Audit have countless stories of unacceptable risk which in their language will be the result of poor processes and inadequate controls. Educate Audit on what good recordkeeping processes and well implemented EDRMS can do, and ask them to translate the direct link between recordkeeping practices and risk into a language and a story to present to the Executive. In addition, Audit already have direct access to the Executive, credibility within it and the opportunity of informal conversation to spread the better practice case. Each organisation structure differs, and in some cases Legal may be your greatest ally.
Finding and educating appropriate allies and reframing the language used to that which concerns senior executives is a good idea. But it is more than that. Record and Information Managers know that good recordkeeping practices reduce risk and improve productivity. It is their obligation to demonstrate this to senior executives in a language they understand so that they may make better decisions about managing risk.